Biden pardons US military vets convicted under revoked homosexuality law

The US president seeks to right ‘historic wrong,’ enabling thousands to apply for pardon, recover lost pay and benefits.

The color guard for LGBT veterans group OutVets marches down Broadway during the St. Patrick's Day Parade in South Boston
LGBTQ veterans march down Broadway during the St Patrick's Day Parade in South Boston, Massachusetts, on March 15, 2015 [Dominick Reuter/Reuters]

President Joe Biden is offering a pardon to military veterans convicted under a now-revoked law that banned homosexuality in the United States armed forces.

Biden announced in a statement issued on Wednesday that his act of clemency was “righting an historic wrong”. The pardon could offer thousands of former military personnel court-martialled under laws making gay sex between consenting adults a crime.

“Despite their courage and great sacrifice, thousands of LGBTQI+ service members were forced out of the military because of their sexual orientation or gender identity,” the statement read. Some of these patriotic Americans were subject to court-martial, and have carried the burden of this great injustice for decades,” Biden said in a statement.

The proclamation would affect those convicted of engaging in sodomy under Article 125 of the Code of Military Justice. The law came into force in 1951. It was rewritten in 2013 to prohibit only forcible acts.

The majority were convicted before the military instituted the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy in 1993, which eased the way for LGBTQ troops to serve if they did not disclose their sexual orientation. In 2011, Congress allowed their open service in the military.

The administration is mulling ways to reach out to individuals who might be eligible for clemency.

Those covered can apply for proof that their conviction has been erased and have their discharges from the military upgraded, enabling them to recover lost pay and benefits.

The president’s use of his pardon powers comes during Pride Month, and days before he is set to hold a high-profile fundraiser with LGBTQ donors on Friday.

“We have a sacred obligation to all of our service members – including our brave LGBTQI+ service members – to properly prepare and equip them when they are sent into harm’s way, and to care for them and their families when they return home,” he said.

Service members convicted under other articles of the military justice code, which may have been used as a pretext to punish or force out LGBTQ troops, would need to request clemency through the normal Department of Justice pardon process.

This is the third categorial pardon by Biden, who has extended his clemency powers to cover a broad group of people convicted of particular crimes, including moves in 2022 and 2023 to pardon those convicted for possessing marijuana.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies